The Cranky Gardener

1 Conversation

How Dry I Am

I've always wanted an English cottage garden. The trouble is, I don't live in England. Temperature extremes are greater where I live than in England, and rainfall amounts are lower. We are also subject to late summer drought. But optimist that I am, I have always believed that I could outsmart Mother Nature and persuade traditional cottage varieties of flowers and shrubs to grow in my climate.

Over the years I've had temporary successes. These occurred in those years when the winters were unusually mild, or the summers were unusually cool and wet. Then normal weather patterns return and my plants struggle to stay alive. They require mountains of mulch, rivers of water, piles of fertilizer to replace all the nutrients washed out by all the watering and more time and energy than I have to give them.

No wonder I'm cranky.

This summer is a prime example. The plants that bloomed well and weathered the summer without problems are those that are either native to this area or are drought tolerant. So after talking about it for years, I've finally decided to take a deep breath, abandon my dreams of a cottage garden, and start xeriscaping. I can't take another summer of having my plants scream, 'Help me! Help me!' every time I walk from the house to the mailbox.

Xeriscaping is a method of gardening that maximizes the use of native plants and minimizes the need for watering. It is a fairly modern word that takes the Greek xeros which means dry and combines it with scaping from landscaping. A xeriscaped garden works with nature rather than against it.

What a concept.

When I first heard about xeriscaping my first thought was that I would have to replace all of my flowers and shrubs with cacti and succulents. And whereas this may suit some people, it isn't a garden style that I could enjoy. Few things look less like a cottage garden than a succulent garden. So I was relieved to learn that a xeriscape in my climate would allow for an amazing variety of beautiful plants.

Some of the basic guidelines for establishing a xeriscape are things that many gardeners do anyway. Things like using mulch to keep the soil cool and to control weeds, drip irrigation, not watering in the heat of the day, setting your lawnmower on a high setting, weeding regularly and using soil amendments to make your beds more water retentive.

But there are some things that you may not have considered. The kind of things that makes you say 'Of course, why didn't I think of that?'

One of the most important rules for creating a successful xeriscape is to establish water zones in your garden. A good way to begin, unless you have an unusually large garden, is to plan on three zones - for low, moderate and high water use. Then group plants and shrubs with similar water and light requirements together. This prevents the common
problem in home gardens of having plants with different water requirements growing in the same bed.

It is also a good idea to limit the size of your lawn areas and to plant grass varieties that are suitable to your climate. You can use lawn areas to separate your garden zones, but it would be even better to separate them with paved areas such as patios and walkways. Just be sure you plant drought-resistant varieties near the paving since it
heats up during he day and causes the soil to dry faster. If two zones abut each other, you should create a transitional area filled with plants that can tolerate the conditions of both zones. Limit the number of different kinds of plants in each area and use single specimen plants sparingly.

Make use of runoffs and slopes to locate plants with higher water requirements. You can also use an area that receives some afternoon shade to plant thirstier varieties. And it is better when first establishing a xeriscape to plant only annual flowers for the first couple of years. This will let you amend the soil and makes it easier to cultivate. Compost and sphagnum peat are good soil amendments. Add 1 cubic foot per 8 foot by 10 foot area to a depth of 9 inches. When the
soil is the right texture and does not compact, then you can begin to add perennials.

Trees and shrubs will require a good deal of water for the first couple of years. Once they are established you can reduce the amount of water you give them. This is also true for most perennials. Even drought-tolerant varieties need extra care to become established. And remember the cardinal rule of watering. Frequent shallow watering is a killer. It forces the plants roots to the surface where they are more
vulnerable to drought conditions. Water deeply and less often.

All of this takes some planning, not the least of which is to choose your flower varieties. If you live in the US, you can contact your local Conservation Department or University Extension center for a list of plants that are native to your region. You can also make use of seed and nursery catalogues, many of which tell you whether a particular variety is drought tolerant or a water hog.

Spring bulbs are a good choice for xeriscaping because they make their growth and bloom before the heat and drought of summer sets in. And don't forget herbs. Most are hardier than more traditional ornamental plants.

For more helpful information about conserving water in English gardens, read this Edited Entry


Since some of my researcher friends are now or have recently been under the weather with colds I've decided to share my recipe for chicken noodle soup - the ultimate comfort food for generations of cranky gardeners.

Hypatia's Easy Chicken Soup


  • 1 chicken, disjointed (a hen is best)
  • 2 quarts of chicken stock
  • 1 cup onion, chopped
  • 1 cup celery, chopped (use some of the leaves if possible)
  • 1 cup carrots, chopped
  • 2 or 3 cloves of garlic, put through a garlic press
  • 1 teaspoon thyme
  • 1 teaspoon rubbed sage
  • Salt to taste
  • 6 oz of noodles (wide, thin, curly... your choice)

Put the chicken into an 8 quart stockpot. Add the chicken stock and enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, then turn heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes. Add vegetables and seasonings and cook until the chicken and vegetables are done, about 30 minutes for a young chicken, 75 minutes for a hen. Remove the chicken and add noodles. Cook until the noodles are tender. In the meantime, debone the chicken, cut into bite sized pieces and add back to the soup. Serve with crackers, dill pickles and grilled cheese sandwiches.

The Cranky Gardener Archive


25.09.03 Front Page

Back Issue Page

Bookmark on your Personal Space

Conversations About This Entry



Infinite Improbability Drive

Infinite Improbability Drive

Read a random Edited Entry

Written by



h2g2 is created by h2g2's users, who are members of the public. The views expressed are theirs and unless specifically stated are not those of the Not Panicking Ltd. Unlike Edited Entries, Entries have not been checked by an Editor. If you consider any Entry to be in breach of the site's House Rules, please register a complaint. For any other comments, please visit the Feedback page.

Write an Entry

"The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is a wholly remarkable book. It has been compiled and recompiled many times and under many different editorships. It contains contributions from countless numbers of travellers and researchers."

Write an entry
Read more